It’s an often unheralded event, but what happens Wednesday in Happy Valley will have a lasting impact on the future of Penn State football.
After Wednesday’s normally scheduled practice concludes, the Nittany Lions will hold their first walk-on tryouts under the scholarship reductions imposed by the NCAA.
From 2014-17, Penn State will be allowed only 65 scholarship players on its roster, down from the normally allotted 85. The NCAA allows 105 players on Division I FBS rosters, meaning beginning in 2014, the Penn State roster could be made up of as much as 40 walk-on players.
So what exactly is Bill O’Brien looking for from this potential crop of walk-ons?
“I just want to try to get out there and see if we can find some good football players, guys that are just hungry to play football, that can move around a little bit, maybe catch the ball well,” O’Brien said Tuesday during his weekly news conference.
The coach isn’t being too picky when it comes to who exactly shows up at walk-on tryouts.
That is unless, of course, you can play in the secondary.
“I would say positionally you would love to, hopefully, maybe there are a couple DBs in the crowd there,” O’Brien said. “That’s the position right now that we’re looking for because of numbers-wise.”
The Lions secondary has been hit hard by player transfers. That unit lost a co-starter in cornerback Derrick Thomas, and a backup in safety Tim Buckley before the start of fall camp. Curtis Drake, who was making a position switch from receiver to cornerback left the team in early June.
Any help the Lions can get in the secondary will be well-received, even if it just means some bodies can be spared in practice.
But the secondary won’t be the only area looking for reinforcements. Tight end Matt Lehman and running back Derek Day, both walk-ons, have contributed this season for Penn State.
O’Brien has developed a new term for his walk-on players, calling them “run-ons” because of the impact they’ll be counted on to make.
He just hopes there’s enough willing participants to help ensure the program’s future.
“Not sure how many will show up — male or female,” O’Brien said. “We’ll see after practice.”
“Blue Out” planned for Temple game
By Beaver Stadium’s standards, attendance hasn’t been all that great in Penn State’s first two home games.
The opener against Ohio and last Saturday’s win over Navy attracted fewer than 100,000 fans.
It’s unclear if this Saturday’s crowd for Temple will finally eclipse 100,000, but the cause may draw them out.
All fans are being encouraged to wear blue in support of child abuse prevention.
Donations will be collected to benefit the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
“From the day I arrived here I felt like it was so important to be involved in the community like Penn State football has been in the past, and especially as it relates to putting and end to child abuse,” O’Brien said. “Now to have the crowd dressed in blue T-shirts for the ‘Blue Out’ game and to have awareness to the child abuse problem in this country and everywhere, I think it’s going to be a great day.”
O’Brien hinted that injured tailbacks Bill Belton and Derek Day may see time this weekend against Temple.
Belton hasn’t played since the opener due to an ankle injury and Day missed the Navy game with a shoulder separation.
“I would say Derek is probably a little bit ahead of Belton as a far as where that is injury-wise,” O’Brien said. “They’re both day-to-day. We will just continue to monitor that.”
Left tackle Donovan Smith was listed as day-to-day and O’Brien said he would have a better idea of Smith’s status after Tuesday’s practice.
Freshman linebacker Nyeem Wartman, who had a blocked punt against Ohio, and senior defensive end Pete Massaro were listed as out for the Temple game.
“It’s disappointing because you feel bad for the guy,” O’Brien said of Wartman. “He’s just a great kid who has a really bright future at Penn State. I wouldn’t expect him back for a while, though.”